Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent: A Fertile Void

I was familiar with the experience of a “fertile void” when Nancy, my spiritual director, mentioned it. I just didn’t know it by that name. I’ve known seasons when all seems quiet on the surface of my life, but I’m aware of a subtle stirring beneath the quiet; a place where things are composting—where my inner life is being turned over, my psychological structures broken down, in order to become more deep and real and fertile. 

It’s not an all-together comfortable place. A part of me chaffs in the waiting; feels uneasy and wonders what I should do to stir things up myself. It doesn’t take long, though, to discover the vanity of trying to hurry the decomposing and reconstituting of my inner life and soul. The invitation during a fertile void is to rest in it and trust the process of it. 

The reason I suspect for this season of fruitful emptiness is the fact that I’ve just finished the manuscript for my next book and I’m feeling the let-down. I’ve turned a corner into December, toward the Advent of Jesus, and I’m numb and honestly a little bored. I felt hopeful when Nancy suggested that I’m in a fertile void. I know that good things happen when a field is allowed to go fallow for a season; when I cease striving and rest in the knowledge that God is God and I am not (God).  

Then I thought about Advent; how it's like a fertile void. Advent is a time of waiting during a silent, holy night; watching with anticipation for the birth of Jesus. We wait in hope that he will come again; today, tomorrow and the next. We linger in the stillness and look for his yet-to be seen holy visitation. The invitation of Advent is to cease striving and consent to the deeper, quieter work of God in the silent, holy night.   

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On Pause

I know I'm probably stating the obvious. I'm "on pause" from blogging because I don't seem to be able to blog and write a book and do all the others things I do all at the same time. Something has to go. And for me, it's my blog.

I will return. And hopefully sooner than later, as my manuscript is due to InterVarsity Press on December 1st!

This book is about giving birth to a dream; how to know if the dream inside you is from God and for you. I am including interviews from folks who have given birth to a dream and, as well, telling my own story of starting Sustainable Faith Indy with my loving husband and life-long partner, David.

Stay tuned. I will probably pick things up once Cindy Bunch, my wonderful editor, receives my manuscript and I heave a huge sigh of relief and hopefully make a big toast to it's completion.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When I See You and You See Me

Last week, David and I drove down to Bloomington to see our grandson's end-of-the-year preschool program. Eli was lined up with his class when we walked in and the surprise and joy on his face made the hour-plus drive a very small token to pay. He had a gray polo shirt on and right away I noticed his sparkling, blue-gray eyes. They get me every time.

We went out for ice cream after the program and I sat down next to him. He shimmered with sticky delight, his face spilling over in cascades of joy and pleasure as he ate his ice cream cone. But there was one moment in particular that I continue to savor. It was the moment when I looked deep into his eyes and he looked back.

I saw him and he saw me.

For that delicious moment, our hearts kissed. We transmitted love and connection from one to the other. A solitary and poignant moment when I saw him in all his boyish wonder and he saw me in all my grandmotherly adoration.

This isolated frame in my memory symbolizes a deep longing I have when I'm with Eli. I want to touch his soul. I want to see him and I want him to see me--to see the love I have for him that shows up so clearly and unmistakably on my face.

I remember wanting the same thing with my kids when they were little. I recall being conscious each day of seeking out a moment when I made eye contact with them and received eye contact in return. Somehow I knew that it was through looking into our eyes that the bond of our connection was formed.

I've reflected on this experience with Eli for a few days now. I'm still smitten by the memory of his amazing blue-gray eyes. And this memory has been a reminder to me of real prayer.

Prayer for me is just like this: seeing God as God sees me. Real prayer is the moment when I purpose to gaze into the face of God and see him with spiritual eyes. It's the sensation of being seen by him in return; all of me, my goodness and un-loveliness co-mingled.

In this tender, bonding moment I know that God loves me as I am. Our hearts kiss.

I believe that the same desire in me that searches out Eli's face to gaze into his eyes and see him is the same desire that moves God toward me and me toward God in prayer.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Most Unnatural Natural Task of Motherhood: Letting Go

When did it happen? Was it after they laid you on my chest and you slid toward my cheek, slimy and covered in vernix, and I felt your warmth and smelled your wonder. And then they whisked you away to check you and make sure all your parts were working and I wanted to say, "No, not yet." But I didn't.  I let go.

Or when I passed you over the half-door of the nursery to a grandmotherly figure who assured me you would be just fine and I glanced back over my shoulder as I walked away, wishing I could stay with you, just in case you cried. But I went to church, instead.

With each little accomplishment, like feeding yourself, or taking steps unassisted, or climbing out of your crib, you won small victories in your quest for independence and I took small steps toward my journey of letting go of you.

There were those Kodak moments for sure of you singing your first solo, getting on the school bus for the first time, and your first sleep-over at a friends that gave me practice at something I both celebrated and made me cry.

The stakes seemed even higher when I turned over the keys to the car, said good-bye to you on a date with a boy I didn't know, extended your curfew and stayed awake, praying in the night for your safety and that you would make wise choices.

When we loaded up a van from floor to ceiling and then carried all its contents up three flights of stairs into your first dorm room, and drove away, leaving you behind and returning to a house with an empty room, I felt the severing more profoundly than ever--a throb so deep and right that I couldn't argue with it; I just had to accept it.

I watched you as you met your bride at the head of the aisle, all grown up and handsome, marrying the girl you'd told me at the age of six you would marry some day because you were a family man--and I knew my task was, for the most part, complete.

And now, though you're on your own, living a full life, and working hard, you still return to me--sometimes when life is disappointing, or someone breaks your heart or you need a back rub, or you just need a mom. In those moments, I can feel confused because I want to hang on; to be indispensable. But I know I can't and I'm not.

All along the way and even now, motherhood has asked of me a very unnatural thing--to let go of you. Nothing about it has ever felt good and yet everything about it is. I look at you today, so accomplished and self-assured, and I see why.  

You're really quite amazing. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Dilemma of Having Choices: My First (and last?) Visit to Earth Fare

I shopped at a new grocery store this week called Earth Fare--one that carries mostly organic and high quality produce and products. This visit was inspired by the fact that I had an eye doctor appointment not far from the grocery and I had just gotten an amazing cookbook for my birthday from my kids called Sprouted Kitchen with all kinds of amazing recipes I wanted to try--many of them requiring organic, whole foods.

In addition, I had also attended an event this week that featured postmodern theologian Peter Rollins, urban organic farming and health proponent Laura Henderson of Growing Places Indy, and my friend, singer and song-writer, Liz Janes. They inspired me to think about what it means to live a more honest, healthy and grounded life in my community.

So this swirl of experiences came to a head this week when I visited Earth Fare. And then I felt this dilemma: the dilemma of having choices to shop at places like Earth Fare; to buy organic produce and be so particular about food.

I was well aware of my privilege as I shopped in this upscale grocery store and chose more expensive organic products (at least some--others, I couldn't bring myself to pay the price). And I felt the quandary, the friction of values between my love and pleasure in wholesome, clean foods and my awareness of the poor in my neighborhood who struggle to put food on their tables--much of which has been purchased by food stamps.

I also read a passage of Scripture this week that became another ingredient in this compost of experiences and reflections and it nudged me to consider how I might reconcile them--well, maybe.   

"God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants." (John 3:19-21)

The phrase that stood out to me was "come to the light." Those who do what is right...come to the light. 

As I have wallowed in this predicament of privilege and caring for the poor, what does it mean for me to come to the light? 

Long term, I sense that moving toward the light means working for the day when rich and poor alike will eat clean foods and live healthier lives. I also think that planning simple meals, not wasting food and not eating more than I need will help with with the dilemma of my daily choices. 

So, for me, this issue is far from resolved and I suspect that that is a good thing. Dilemmas serve a purpose; they get us to think and ask important questions; they keep our conscience active and sensitive to the things hidden in our hearts--the things that light exposes.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Resurrection Sunday: Looking for the Living Among the Dead

As Luke's account of Jesus' resurrection was read this morning, the words that caught me up were those spoken to the women at his tomb. They came with spices in hand, ready to prepare Jesus' dead body for burial. Then suddenly, two angels appeared to them and asked a peculiar question. "Why are you looking for the living among the dead?" (Luke 24:5)

Our pastor noted what an odd question this was for the angels to ask them. The answer was clear. These women weren't looking for the living among the dead. They were looking for the dead among the dead!

Those words stuck with me. They reminded me that the declaration of Easter is the fact that, because Jesus rose from the dead, we can look for the living among the dead; for life in the midst of death!

All I need to do is review my life and see the truth of this. Times when I experienced real death, like the death of my father from cancer, I see how I also found life. Or times when a relationship appeared to be dying, I found the gift of life in the tearing down and rebuilding of it. Or once when I took a personal blow that felt like it would end in death, I discovered instead the gift of life, buried deeply in the tomb of my soul.

Resurrection Sunday is a day to celebrate that we can, indeed, look for the living among the dead because Jesus rose from the dead, whole and full of life!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday: Keeping Vigil at the Tomb

I've witnessed the death of both of my parents. While much of the experience is a blur to me now, I have a very distinct memory of standing at the graveside next to each of their caskets, in those final moments before they were lowered into the ground. I still remember what it felt like; the final letting go of them. It was a singular low point, a death in and of itself, in my journey of grief.

Today is Holy Saturday, the middle day between the death and resurrection of Jesus. As I read Matthew's account of his burial, I noticed his reference to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sitting across from the tomb and watching, while Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus' body in the tomb.

I imagine them feeling some of what I felt at the graveside of each of my parents--the last dregs of energy drained from them as they watched Jesus' body laid to rest. Perhaps, deep within,  they did believe and hope in his resurrection. Yet, they were human and more than likely felt that vacuous grief that one feels in death as they kept vigil at his tomb.

It requires courage to embrace the darkness of the tomb and let go. To enter the darkness of not knowing and accept the finality of the moment. To keep vigil with the two Marys. Holy Saturday.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Reflections on Good Friday: Is this the Face of Humiliation? I used to think so.

This morning, I read through John's account of Jesus' betrayal and crucifixion (John 18, 19). It was painful to read. John slowed the story down; he included many details that helped me visualize what Jesus endured. One particular part of the story was especially hard.

After Pilot had Jesus flogged with a metal-tipped whip and the soldiers placed a purple robe and crown of thorns on him, Pilot brought him out to the people. Instead of reacting with compassion when they saw him bloody and beaten, they screamed, "Crucify him!" What a bizarre reaction!

It makes me shudder to witness their lack of pity; their gloating thirst for innocent blood. What is this in our  human heart that sees a pathetic, wounded man and wants to kill him? The same instinct that's in a pack of wild dogs who attack one of their own because he's maimed?

As I read the description of Jesus' mistreatment, I found myself identifying in a way I never used to. I've had my own experience of being attacked, bullied and betrayed by religious leaders. And so what stung most to me in Jesus' experience of suffering was the humiliation that he must have felt....or did he?

I've started to ponder the way that I felt solidarity with Jesus as I identified with what I assumed to be his emotional response of humiliation to all that he endured. But when I began to explore it, it occurred to me that humiliation is a feeling one experiences as a result of pride--wounded pride. It's not really a cousin to humility--the willingness to lower oneself. Humiliation is forced subjection.

This revelation has provided a new lens for me as I stand before the cross today on this Good Friday. I now see Jesus, my Savior, who willingly "humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). No-I don't think this is the "face of humiliation." It's definitely a humble face.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday Reflection on Jesus' Face of Humility

          As Jesus and his disciples gathered in the upper room, the Passover celebration at hand, his mood was heavy, his thoughts preoccupied. Knowing that the time had come for him to live out his most climactic act of love, he meditated on this moment with great thoughtfulness.
          The table, laden with food, was low to the ground with thin cushions surrounding it. Each of the twelve took their spots, Jesus in the place of honor, at the head. John, a tender comfort to Jesus during this time, sat close, sensing his teacher’s sadness.
          The men carried on conversations with one another, subconsciously aware of the heaviness of this unnamed grief, the premonition that they were attending a farewell party and something was about to happen of which they had no control.
          Their upper bodies leaned forward toward the table, their left hand supporting their weight. They ate with their clean hand as they engaged in banter, their legs and sandaled feet extending behind them. Quietly, Jesus slipped back from the table. The eyes of his disciples glanced toward him, observing his quiet movement.
          He began to disrobe, taking off his outer garments and setting them aside. A large towel lay by the table, one that a servant had left behind. He picked it up and wrapped it around his stripped body, mimicking the look of a lowly servant.
           Jesus found a large bowl and poured water into it from a jug. Then he carried the bowl over to the table, stooping low to the ground behind each disciple. Taking on the job of a menial houseboy, one by one, he began to wash each of his disciple’s feet.
          The men felt awkward and uncomfortable. It occurred to some that they had failed to think about this simple act of hospitality—washing feet. Whose responsibility should it have been? Certainly none of theirs. Where was that servant who had prepared the food and thoughtlessly overlooked this courtesy? Their faces reddened with shame and embarrassment, as they submitted to Jesus’ act of humiliating himself.
          They were silent, all except Peter. He never could use self-restraint when it came to questioning what Jesus was doing. With indignation, Peter protested, saying to him, “Are you really going to wash my feet?” Jesus insisted, responding to Peter, “Unless I wash your feet, you won’t be able to share with me in this fellowship of servant hood.”
          Stunned and humbled, Peter consented, begging to be washed from head to toe.  

Imagining Prayer: Letting Jesus Wash Your Feet
  • Return to the story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet. In your imagination, envision yourself seated in a place at the low table, on a cushion, with your feet behind you. (You may even want to take this position physically.)
  • Feel Jesus approach you from behind and begin to bath your feet with cool water. Imagine his hands tenderly touching your feet, rinsing them, and gently patting them dry. Soak in the sensation of Jesus serving you through this affectionate act.
  • Turn to him, look into his face, and experience his demeanor. Feel his humble countenance as he serves you by washing your feet. Ask him to wash all of you.
  • Listen to him and see what he has to say. Let his humble face heal you of your own striving.
  •  Rest, contented by Jesus’ love for you.  
  (This post is an excerpt from Picturing the Face of Jesus: Encountering Christ through Art, by Beth Booram)

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Garden of Even: Tracing the Origin of Our Common Bond

Since September, I've been meeting every Monday with a group of twelve women as part of a spiritual formation course called The Journey. These friends, ranging in age from their mid-twenties to sixties, have become very dear to me. Each of them sparkle with unique radiance and genuine beauty. It's been such a pleasure and joy to get to know them.

As part of The Journey, we did a post-it note exercise where each person captured her life story on a timeline and then wrote it out in narrative form. We then spent a Saturday and several subsequent Mondays sharing our narratives with one another. As you might imagine, it's been powerful! No words adequately describe the holy ground we have entered with each one.

Since our story-telling concluded, I've found myself meditating on the whole experience--on the themes I've heard, trying to distill them. There's one in particular that has come to the forefront; a theme that's honestly surprised me. Let me try to describe it.

In story after story, I heard women describe the common experience of feeling shame. It didn't matter whether she was born and raised in a two-parent, loving family or a home with intense chaos and horrifying abuse. At some point in her young life, she expressed a belief that there was something about her, something in her that made her peculiarly shameful and unworthy of love.

I've read about the concept of original sin; the idea that we are born with a disposition toward doing bad things. What struck me from hearing our stories was not merely our compulsion to do wrong but our deep-seated belief that there was something wrong with us; that we were marred and shameful misfits.

I guess what I found so surprising was that it didn't seem to matter much the kind of home in which we were raised. Obviously, no home or parent is perfect. But several of us were raised in somewhat stable, loving homes, and it honestly didn't seem to make a lot of difference. We still recalled feeling, at a young age, an intense and unrelenting shame toward ourselves.

So, I've mused, "Is this really our common bond and original sin? Our rejection of God's love because of shame?"  

What's more, as I think of each story, it appears that we spend our adult lives trying to overcome the belief that we are beyond being loved. Each woman in our group described her own quest to overcome the self-deprecating belief of her unworthiness to be loved by God.

I think it takes a miracle to heal from the deep shame that each of us confessed. And in the last several weeks, I have witnessed miracles--many of them, still very much in process. In fact, mine is very much in process, too. Each day, I notice that one of my most formidable challenges is to let the miracle of God's love in.   

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chasing Squirrels

We have the happiest squirrels on the block. With four large walnut trees gracing our yard, dropping thousands of walnuts each fall, the squirrels couldn't be happier or fatter. Except when Bongo, our dog, decides it's time to play chase.

He rushes out the back door like a horse out of the block at the Kentucky Derby. He corners the squirrel, who by this time has bounded from the deck rail to the walnut tree branch, and they have a staring match. The squirrel always wins.

Bongo sometimes reminds me of me in the way I chase my own squirrels--those pesky and glittering distractions that catch the corner of my eye and before I know it--I'm off to the races. It's the habit that trips me up most from doing the "one thing" I need to be doing in my effort to become a single-tasker.

My squirrels are the things that distract me not only from the "one thing" but the "first thing" on my list. Squirrels are the things of lesser importance than what I need to be doing right now. They are often time wasters or, at best, not the priority I give them when I find myself running after them.

So--what kinds of things am I talking about? Oh, things like obsessing over returning every email in my inbox; day dreaming about conversations I had or might have, especially those with the potential for conflict; fretting over something bad that might happen; being perfectionistic about stuff that really isn't that important--writing the perfect email response, how I look, or how my home looks.

Sometimes I even deliberately chase squirrels to avoid what I need to be doing because of I feel some inner resistance to do it. Chasing squirrels can be a convenient distraction.

So, yesterday, as I did a review of my upcoming week by creating my mind map (a tool I use to visually organize all the parts of my life), I starred the things that need my attention today. I've already chased a few squirrels. Oh, well. At least I know it's time to return to my first things and take them on, one thing at a time.

What are the squirrels that you find yourself most often chasing? Do you know what's on your first things list for today?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

One Thing at a Time

I read an article a while back that suggested when we multitask, we diminish our brain power to the same extent as if we'd had one too many beers. (For me, that would be one more than one.) If that's true, it's a little sobering (no pun intended) to think about the implications; most of us are stumbling around in a drunken stupor and don't know it. When are we not multitasking?

My New Year's Declaration to become a single-tasker (see previous post) has grown out of a need for balance and increased brain power. Perhaps like you, I have a diverse portfolio of work, even in a given day. I'm a congregational consultant, a wife, a writer, a spiritual director, an agent for a non-profit, a mother and grandmother, a cook, a friend, a facilitator and teacher and director of an urban retreat center. And sometimes, in a given day, I am all of them!

The only way I can keep my sanity and give my best and my all to each is to focus on "one thing at a time." In my previous post, I referred to Jesus' words to Martha:  "My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41, 42).

"There is only one thing worth being concerned about" at a time.

To do that, here's where the battle is won or lost: It's hard work to put on blinders when I'm writing a presentation on my computer and see an email float into my inbox about something else that needs my attention. Or to ignore a phone call or text while I finish what I'm doing. Or to mentally brush aside a worrisome thought while I spend time praying and being with God. It's hard work--really hard work to single-task.And it's in those brief, innocuous moments where I choose to stay on task or multitask that I either find or lose my way.

This is my growing edge these days--to prioritize my "first thing" and choose to keep it as my "one thing" to focus on until it's finished or where it needs to be until I pick it up again. Most days I try and fail; but when I'm tenacious about single-tasking, I'm much more productive and fruitful than when I go back and forth from one thing to another. I also don't feel as overwhelmed and out of balance or waste as much time.

So, it's a new day and I'm ready to practice the wisdom of Jesus and be concerned about one thing at a time! And I'm hungrier than ever for the peace that comes from it. How about you?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Intentions for 2013: Declarations for Becoming a Single-tasker

I like to organize my thoughts through a mind map. So, a few days before the new year began, I placed a bubble in the middle of my journal page and wrote, "My New Year's Intentions for 2013." And then I began to add bubbles around it and clusters of thoughts related to those bubbles. 
As I scanned my memory and wrote down ideas of what might become an intention to live into this coming year, I also saw a theme arise. Many of my bubbles had to do with balance--that elusive ideal I've often striven for in the past. Some bubbles included things like more consistent Sabbath keeping, improved self-care and planning margin--all things that have to do with balancing work with rest and play.  
But the obvious next question was "How?" How do I create balance or manage all the disparate parts of my life in a way that I helps me have some margin. As I considered the question, something came to mind that might be counter-intuitive to what you might expect to be an answer. It was the thought that I need to become a single-tasker. I need to learn how to focus on one thing at a time. It's trying to do too many things at once that creates the feeling of being overwhelmed and lacking balance.
Jesus had some things to say about single-tasking in the story about Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42. Do you know the story? Jesus was in their home one day along with a number of his disciples. He was teaching them when Martha, busy in the kitchen, interrupted him with a clearly annoyed tone in her voice. She asked him to tell her sister, Mary, to get up from her place sitting at his feet and come help get lunch on the table. Jesus responded with some pointed words. “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41, 42).
I’ve heard a lot of interpretations of this story, as you might have, but one application worth considering is Jesus’ suggestion that “there is only one thing worth being concerned about” at a time and if you discover that, it won’t be taken away from you. Mary was embodying the posture of a person who was aware of what was most important in that moment and she stay focused on it. She was a single-tasker. Martha, on the other hand, was a multi-tasker; she was worried about many things--a habit that creates the feeling that life is out-of-balance and overwhelming.
So, over the next few weeks, I want to think more deeply about what it means to be a single-tasker--to take Jesus' advice and be concerned about one thing at a time. I hope it will lead to a little more balance and peace of mind. Join me in this New Year 2013 as I write about "Declarations of a Single-tasker."